Many words were written about Sunday’s marquee match between Liverpool and Manchester City, and rightfully so. It seemed like a new rivalry was ready to hatch, especially after all the goals, lung-bursting runs, and individual brilliance in last year’s meetings.
But the 90 minutes that followed were far from the expected billing. City stifled Liverpool’s usually hyper attack at Anfield, with the two sides combining for a mere four shots on target. The final 0-0 score was a fair reflection of an oftentimes drab affair.
Here are three reasons why the supposed match of the season was anything but:
Lack of sharpness in final third
Neither Liverpool or City caused much trouble in and around the goal mouth, but the hosts were particularly ineffective.
Mohamed Salah, who’s been starved of meaningful passes this season, hardly found himself in scoring positions, and Roberto Firmino managed just two touches in City’s penalty area. Liverpool’s struggles up front were painfully apparent in the losses to Napoli and Chelsea over the past week, and they surfaced again Sunday.
But City didn’t offer much more on the opposite end of the pitch. Their interplay was slow and often laborious, and Sergio Aguero, despite his continued transformation from outright poacher to team player, was simply a non-factor. And neither David Silva or Bernardo Silva could orchestrate anything from behind.
The few chances City created were wasted. Riyad Mahrez shot wide on the rush, and he missed a penalty toward the end of the match. Given the Algerian is by no means guaranteed to start matches, it was a real opportunity missed to cement his place.
Solid defending on both ends
It’s weird to say this, but Liverpool are actually a difficult opponent to break down.
Dejan Lovren was excellent in his first start of the Premier League season, winning a game-high five tackles and making four clearances. Not so long ago Lovren was making grave errors in front of goal, and yet here he was standing tall in the face of Europe’s burgeoning force. He may have been victimized by a nutmeg in the second half, but his overall performance was great. The Croatian international deserves credit for improving his game, and so does manager Jurgen Klopp for his guidance.
Similar plaudits could be shared about City’s back four. John Stones and Aymeric Laporte, who are looking more and more like Pep Guardiola’s center-back pairing of choice, were impenetrable, while full-backs Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy filled the half spaces well and constricted Liverpool’s wide players. Fernandinho also did a great job shielding the defense, playing his way out of tight quarters to move the ball up the pitch and recycle possession.
City killed Liverpool’s vibe
Liverpool’s best football came in the first 10 minutes when their midfield pressed high and forced City into cheap giveaways.
The noise at Anfield was growing, but the visitors resisted and gradually asserted control over the game. City strolled at a pedestrian pace – certainly slower than usual – so they could suppress the usually hyperactive Reds and keep the match from becoming a track meet. It wasn’t so much “parking the bus” as it was possession as a form of defense. Liverpool simply weren’t allowed to play at the breakneck pace that fuels many of their wins.
That, according to Guardiola, was the plan all along:
Guardiola apparently learned from his previous encounters with Liverpool’s attack, which feasted on City in the Champions League. His approach on Sunday sacrificed entertainment for a clean sheet and a share of the points – a rare glimpse of pragmatism from football’s leading attacking specialist.